Lanesborough Select Board reverses course, supports police station study

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LANESBOROUGH — The Select Board now backs a feasibility study of multiple sites for a police station, which two board members had called "a waste of money."

Pending annual town meeting approval, the three selectmen on Monday agreed to investigate whether to further renovate the current cramped, aging station, build a new one on private land fronting Laston Park or reuse one of the buildings at the vacant Vacation Village site.

The board also rescinded its 2-1 vote on April 16 to forgo the study in favor of hiring a contractor to finish the work Selectman Robert Ericson started four years ago. Ericson and Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers said at that meeting the estimated $25,000 for the study would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Monday's reversal comes after a citizens petition was submitted for June's annual town meeting that supports a three-site study. The citizen request looks at the current station, Vacation Village and town-owned land on North Main Street once targeted for senior housing and a senior center. Petition supporters say they would be willing to substitute the Laston Park option for the North Main Street property.

Select Board Chairman John Goerlach urged Ericson and Sayers to back a study, given the citizen proposal that surfaced following the April 16 meeting.

"I would suggest we [study] all three because the citizen petition is in. [Supporters] won't back down from it on the town meeting floor," he said.

Sayers changed his mind about the study because "you're gonna need it to satisfy the townspeople to get any money [for a police station]."

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The ongoing effort to find a long-term solution for housing the Lanesborough Police Department was prompted by what the police force has said has been an ineffective in-house attempt to upgrade the police station in a building that dates back to 1827.

The project began in 2015 with Ericson donating his time to handle most of the repairs and upgrades at the police station, saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in labor costs. The overhaul includes creating new workspace, removal of mold from walls and other surfaces, insulating the heat ductwork, electrical and plumbing upgrades, and general repairs.

Ericson stopped working after the town's insurer, the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, inspected the station and issued a cease-and-desist order. The insurer said the project lacked permits and the paperwork for it to continue. After the report was issued, Police Chief Timothy Sorrell and his officers said in February that they are willing to stay put until short-term improvements are made and voters determine the station's future.

In discussing the fate of the police station at recent Select Board meetings, the option of local law enforcement staying could include finishing the renovations, making better use of the existing space and maybe put an addition on the building.

At the Vacation Village site, the police are eyeing the "green building" of the five structures on the property totaling 12,755 square feet. Sorrell believes it can be renovated to meet the needs of his department.

Town officials say they would have to determine whether to find uses for the other four buildings or have them demolished before a future town meeting could consider buying the 5-acre parcel.

If a new building is the best option for a police station, Sorrell said on Monday it could fit on the 2 acres fronting Laston Park, with space left over for additional parking for users of the town park.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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